The problem with chaos magic has always been that when compared with traditional systems, it goes about everything more or less upside-down, backwards, inside-out and sideways. Before going any further, let me add some basic principles that will make this guide far more understandable to anyone whose background may be different from my own:
Principle 1: Chaos magic grew out of, and owes a great debt to the philosophy of, Discordianism. Reading the Illuminatus! Trilogy is nice, but you will need a firm grounding in the Principia Discordia to get started on understanding chaos magic. How does one get a firm grounding in a book that is made up mostly of in-jokes, hearsay and quotes from books that don't in fact exist? I'm so glad you asked: The core of the philosophy can be found here: Psycho-Metaphysics
Principle 2: The best text for learning chaos magic is Oven-Ready Chaos by Phil Hine. I say "best" because, based on my own reading, it is the most objective and scientific one freely available online. While Peter Carroll is excellent reading, Phil Hine is better both at explaining in general and at distinguishing his own personal views from universal truth
Principle 3: Chaos magic is not a system but a meta-system. In the same sense that NLP is a meta-system for human communication and integral thought is a meta-system for human development, chaos magic is a meta-system for describing improbable coincidences (in the timeless words of Peter Carroll). Its strength and weakness has always been in its ability to eff the ineffable, to quote a good friend of mine (in other words, to explain that which traditionally has been thought to be inexplicable).
Why does this matter? Because chaos magic has succeeded in infecting all other magical systems to the point that Andrieh Vitimus (who should correct me if I'm misquoting you) said at Crucible this year that nearly every book on magic published today would likely have been considered a chaos magic book ten to fifteen years ago. Wicca remains influential, but like the Christianity its members sometimes react so vehemently to, it is a system that asserts universality while the reality is anything but. Just ask anyone who used to believe all goddesses are the same, or that all witches must necessarily be Wiccan. The usefulness of a system like chaos magic, which tries to distill practices down to only what works, and that also tries to apply the scientific method to the Work, cannot be overstated.
I was chatting today with Jason Miller about the four models of magic, which seem to be his least favorite bit about chaos magic in particular. Let me address those here, because they are the reason this blog post happened at all. Roughly, the four models are the energy ("Magic works through directing energy"), spirit ("Magic works by calling and working with spirit entities"), psychological ("Magic works through embedding information in the unconscious and/or collective unconscious"), and cybernetic ("Magic is a primitive word for hacking the Matrix"). Jason and I agree that these models are artificial, that there's really no reason to use any of them exclusively, and that servitors (which are cybernetic in focus) are really no different from homunculi or even some versions of the ancient golem, which means (as Phil Hine rightly says in Oven-Ready Chaos) the cybernetic model dovetails right back into the spirit model, which is normally considered the oldest of the four.
But I like the models because they're artificial, not in spite of it. Why? Because as a privileged white boy who had strict rationalism thrust upon him, it comforted me a great deal to know there were others out there who needed to be flat-out told that the psychological model is *not* somehow superior to the other three. Who needed to be beaten over the head, in fact, with the knowledge that non-rational does *not* equal unreal. Please raise your hand if you're with me on this.
So what should any of us do when someone says, "I'm a spirit model person" or "I prefer the psychological model" or even "I only believe in energy healing"? There's always a choice: Speak that person's language or don't. But there's a reason I mentioned NLP earlier, a method to my madness as it were, and that reason is called mirroring. In NLP it's often described through auditory, visual or kinesthetic language - for example, someone who's a kinesthetic learner might be more inclined to say they grasp what you're saying, while an auditory person might say "I hear you" or simply nod their head, and a visual person would probably just make really good eye contact or maybe add "I see what you mean." This is an NLP technique developed from watching three very different therapists with very different assumptions and styles, all of whom did it intuitively because of how well it works for developing a genuine rapport quickly.
Mirroring the person's language helps the person feel at ease with you; it helps them let their guard down because they know you've heard them, and on an unconscious level, they know that you've adjusted your speech patterns just a little so that you can meet on shared ground. The same is true for magical models: If someone tells you their preferred model and you respond by explaining things in some other one, you'd better have a bloody good reason for doing so, and first you'd better explain yourself. The most common reason is either that no explanation exists for a given phenomenon in the model the person specified, or possibly that you're not familiar enough with that model to know what the explanation is.
Being conversant in all four models is helpful, but even if you aren't, just acknowledging that you've changed the subject because you have a model limitation of your own will help you to laugh at yourselves, move on, and avoid getting bogged down in cock-measuring contests of language instead of figuring out a way to communicate. When in doubt, almost everyone knows a bit of the energy, spirit, and psychological models, so feel free to weave them together with a nice helping of fictional terminology if that's all you know of. Mage: the Ascension is particularly useful for effing the ineffable, as is the game Unknown Armies.
Now you may see why I emphasized the Principia Discordia so emphatically above. (See what I did there?) Reality really is the original Rorschach.
Verily! So much for all that.